Contributing to a Spouse’s IRA in Retirement

If you earn money but your spouse doesn’t, you can contribute to IRAs for both of you.

My wife and I are both retired from our full-time jobs, but I still work a little and earned about $10,000 last year. Can I contribute to an IRA for myself and for my wife? Does my wife have to open a separate spousal IRA, or can we contribute to the IRA she had while she was working?

See Our Slide Show: 10 Things You Must Know About Traditional IRAs

Since you have earned income in 2014, you can contribute to your IRA and to your wife’s IRA. However, you can’t contribute more than the total amount of money both of you earned for the year. Since you earned $10,000 and your wife had no income, you could contribute up to $6,500 to your IRA (the $5,500 limit, plus a $1,000 catch-up contribution for anyone who is 50 or older), and $3,500 to your wife’s IRA, or any combination that equals $10,000 or less. (The maximum contribution for a couple who are both 50 or older is $6,500 each. The catch-up limits for each person’s account are based on their own age, regardless of which spouse actually contributes the money.)

You don’t need to open a new spousal IRA for your wife. If she already has the kind of IRA you are contributing to (traditional or Roth), you can simply add the money to her account—even if the IRA was established before you were married, according to T. Rowe Price. The spousal IRA rules were created to enable the lower-income spouse to save money in an IRA, but it doesn’t matter which spouse actually makes the contributions.

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Anyone can contribute to a traditional IRA, no matter how high your income. The Roth eligibility rules are based on a couple’s joint income, if married filing jointly. You can qualify to make Roth contributions for 2014 if your joint income was less than $193,000 (the size of the contribution starts to phase out if your joint income was more than $183,000). See Why You Need a Roth IRA for more information.

Kimberly Lankford
Contributing Editor, Kiplinger's Personal Finance

As the "Ask Kim" columnist for Kiplinger's Personal Finance, Lankford receives hundreds of personal finance questions from readers every month. She is the author of Rescue Your Financial Life (McGraw-Hill, 2003), The Insurance Maze: How You Can Save Money on Insurance -- and Still Get the Coverage You Need (Kaplan, 2006), Kiplinger's Ask Kim for Money Smart Solutions (Kaplan, 2007) and The Kiplinger/BBB Personal Finance Guide for Military Families. She is frequently featured as a financial expert on television and radio, including NBC's Today Show, CNN, CNBC and National Public Radio.